ENGLISHMain English Grammar



A figure of speech is a phrase or word having different meanings than its literal (original) meanings. It conveys meaning by identifying or comparing one thing to another.

Language can be used in two ways – literally (originally) and figuratively (not original; imaginary). Literal language is direct and uses the real definition and meanings of words and phrases. But when we talk figuratively, the meaning of any word/phrase will depend on the context in which they are used.

Let us take for example the phrase FAST LIKE LIGHTNING. This phrase merely implies great speed, it does not mean literally AS FAST AS LIGHTNING.

Example: On hearing the school bell the kids ran out of the class as fast as lightning.



1. Simile

Simile is a comparison between two dissimilar things that actually have nothing in common. In a simile, we use two specific words LIKE or AS; e.g.

She is as brave as a lion.

[In this sentence you will notice a girl and her bravery are being compared to a lion. This is an unusual and illogical comparison, but it brings out the lively imagery quality in the sentence. The literal (original) sentence would have read SHE IS BRAVE, but using the simile makes it sound much better.

Some other examples of Simile

a) Sunita was white as a sheet after she walked out of the horror movie.
b) quite like a mouse
c) as tall as a mountain
d) as strong as an ox
e) As blind as a bat (BAT = a small animal like a mouse with wings that flies at night; चमगादड़)
f) Eats like a pig
g) As wise as an owl
h) The moon is like a balloon.
i) She sings like an angel.

2. Metaphor

Metaphor compares two dissimilar things or ideas that have something in common; e.g.

The moon is a balloon.

NOTE: A METAPHOR and a SIMILE are quite similar actually, but if you take a metaphor at its literal meaning it will sound absurd. In a simile, the comparison happens with the help of the words AS and LIKE. A metaphor will not have either of those two words.

1. a) The moon is like a balloon. (Simile)
b) The moon is a balloon. (Metaphor)

2. a) She’s as fierce as a tiger.
b) She’s a tiger when she’s angry.

Some other examples of Metaphor

a) Sangeeta is a chicken. (Literally, this sounds so very absurd. But this is a metaphor which suggests that Sangeeta is a coward, or frightened.)
b) Love is a battlefield.
c) All the world is a stage.
d) Technology is a dinosaur.
e) Heart of stone
f) Time is money.
g) She is a night owl.
h) This bedroom is a prison.
i) He listened with a stone face.
j) We don’t need dinosaurs in this company.

3. Synecdoche

Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a part of something is used to signify the whole, or vice-versa. For example, ‘The captain commands one hundred sails’ is a synecdoche that uses ‘sails’ to refer to ships—’ships’ being the thing of which a ‘sail’ is a part.

a) All hands on deck
b) Faces in the crowd
c) Lend me your ears
d) Keep the change
e) Have a nice day
f) You have my heart
g) I know those voices
h) Keep your eyes up here

4. Metonymy

Metonymy is a figure of speech in which one object or idea takes the place of another with which it has a close association. In fact, metonymy means ‘change of name’. It is a way of replacing an object or idea with something related to it instead of stating what is actually meant; e.g.

a) I met him at the reception when he took me for a spin during a slow song. (‘Spin’ is metonymy for dance.)
b) Rohit’s new ride was expensive. (Ride is metonymy for car.)
c) When I came to visit, my friend offered me a cup. (‘Cup’ is metonymy for a beverage such as tea or coffee.)
d) I wish he would keep his nose out of the plans. (‘Nose’ is metonymy for interest or attention.)
e) During illness, fluids are often essential for recovery. (‘Fluids’ is metonymy for hydrating substances.)
f) While I’m sleeping, my dog tries to steal the covers. (‘Covers’ is metonymy for bed linens, blankets, quilts, etc.)
g) This class is more intelligent and engaged than the last one. (‘Class’ is metonymy for a group of students.)
h) Next week, my boyfriend and I are headed to the altar. (‘Altar’ is metonymy for getting married)

5. Pun

A pun is a clever and amusing use of a word or phrase with two meanings, or of words with the same sound but different meanings.

For example:

a) If someone says ‘The peasants are revolting’, this is a pun because it can be interpreted as meaning either that the peasants are fighting against authority, or that they are disgusting.

b) “Seven days without food makes one weak” is a pun on the words WEEK and WEAK, and also on the different meanings of ONE.

c) An ambassador is an honest man who lies abroad for the good of his country.

d) Is life worth living? – It depends upon the liver?

6. Personification

Personification is giving human qualities to non-living things or ideas, if we take the words at their literal meaning they will sound absurd; e.g.

That kitchen knife will take a bite out of your hand if you don’t handle it safely.

Some other examples of Personification

a) The wind howled as the storm grew stronger. (Here we have taken, the wind (a thing), and personified it as a living thing by claiming it HOWLED.
b) Time ran away from him.
c) The car died in the middle of the road.
d) The sea is angry.
e) Fog crept in
f) The tide waits for no man.
g) My car tends to give up on long hills.
h) I like onions, but they don’t like me.
i) My phone is not cooperating with me today.
j) That bus is driving too fast.
k) My computer works very hard.
l) My heart danced when he walked in the room.
m) The hair on my arms stood after the performance.

7. Apostrophe

Apostrophe is a figure of speech in which a speaker directly addresses someone (or something) that is not present or cannot respond in reality. The entity being addressed can be an absent, dead, or imaginary person, but it can also be an inanimate object (like stars or the ocean), an abstract idea (like love or fate), or a being (such as a Muse or god). An apostrophe is a form of personification; e.g.

a) Twinkle, twinkle, little star, How I wonder what you are.

(In this case, the apostrophe speaks directly to an inanimate star, up above the world so high, personifying it and pondering how it’s doing.)

b) Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.
c) Blue moon, you saw me standing alone. without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own.
d) O Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore art thou Romeo?
e) Welcome, O life!
f) Death, Be Not Proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so.
g) Love, who needs you?
h) Come on, Phone, give me a ring!
i) Chocolate, why must you be so delicious?
j) Alarm clock, please don’t fail me.
k) Seven, you are my lucky number!
l) Thank you, my guardian angel, for this parking space!
m) Heaven, help us.

8. Hyperbole

Hyperbole is a way of speaking or writing that makes someone or something sound bigger, better, more, etc. than they are. We use hyperbole to exaggerate. We sometimes do this to emphasise something, to add humour or to gain attention. When we use hyperbole, we often make statements which are obviously untrue; e.g.

Now that you know what to think about when adding hyperbole to your work, see how hyperbole adds emphasis.

1. Without hyperbole – This game is taking a long time.
With hyperbole– This game is taking forever.

2. Without hyperbole– This helmet is hurting my chin.
With hyperbole– This helmet is killing me.

(In truth, the game isn’t actually taking forever, and the helmet isn’t killing anyone, but adding that wording is more creative.)

Some other examples of Hyperbole

a) I’ve told you a hundred times.
b) It cost a billion dollars.
c) I could do this forever.
d) She is older than dirt.
e) I have a million problems.
f) We won a tonne of cash.
g) I’ll die if I don’t finish this crossword.
h) Read this poem to understand this:

I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street.

[In this poem, the poet has used hyperbole to stress on how long his love to his beloved would last. Just imagine when China and Africa would meet and can river jump up over the mountains? How salmon can be intelligent enough so that it could sing and evolve enough and walk the streets?]


‘Litotes’ is a figure in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary. Thus, ‘a citizen of no mean city’ means one ‘of an illustrious city’.

In other words it’s a figure of speech in which the speaker emphasizes the magnitude of a statement by denying its opposite; a figure of speech in which understatement is used with negation to express a positive attribute; a form of irony.

It is the opposite of hyperbole.

a) I am a citizen of no mean city. (= I am a citizen of a very celebrated city.)
b) He is no fool. (= He is very clever.)

10. Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia is the act of creating or using words that include sounds that are similar to the noises the words refer to, in other words it’s the naming of something with a word whose sound suggests the thing itself, such as BUZZ, ZIP,  HISS and BANG; e.g.

The clap of thunder went BANG and scared my poor dog.

Some other examples of Onomatopoeia

a) The bees BUZZED around in the garden. [Here the word BUZZED is indicating the sound coming from the bees.
b) The leaves were RUSTLING.
c) The door was SQUEAKING.
d) He closed the book with a THUD.

11. Understatement

Understatement is when something is said to make something appear less important or less serious; e.g.

It’s just a scratch. (referring to a large dent)

Some other examples of Understatement

a) It’s a little dry and sandy. (referring to the driest desert in the world)
b) The weather is a little cooler today. (referring to sub-zero temperatures)
c) It was interesting. (referring to a bad or difficult experience)
d) It stings a bit. (referring to a serious wound or injury)

12. Alliteration

Alliteration is the repetition of an initial consonant sound; e.g.

She sells seashells by the seashore.

Some other examples of Alliteration

a) Walter wondered where Winnie was.
b) Blue baby bonnets
c) Nick needed new notebooks.
d) Fred fried frogs.

13. Assonance

Assonance is repetition of vowels without repetition of consonants (as in stony and holy); e.g.

a) She seems to beam rays of sunshine with her eyes of green.
b) They’re some creeps who I wouldn’t meet if you paid me a heap of cash!
c) I wish there was a way to make her state similar feelings to those of my soul.

Some other examples of Assonance

a) Son of a gun
b) The cat is out of the bag
c) Dumb luck
d) After a while, crocodile
e) Chips and dip
f) Goodnight, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite

Difference Between Assonance and Alliteration

Assonance and alliteration are often confused with each other when it comes to literary devices. They are similar in the sense that they rely on repetition of sound in words that are either adjacent or in close proximity to each other. However, assonance refers to the repetition of vowel sounds. Alliteration is the repetition of the same letter or sound at the beginning of words.

An example of alliteration would be the title of a poem by Shel Silverstein: Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out. The first four words of this title repeat the sound of the consonant ‘s’,” even though the word Cynthia begins with a different consonant. Like assonance, alliteration is repetition of sound for literary effect. However, assonance is strictly limited to repeated vowel sounds.

14. Anaphora

Anaphora is a technique where several phrases (or verses in a poem) begin with the same word or words; e.g.

Unfortunately, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time on the wrong day. (repetition of the word WRONG)

Some other examples of Anaphora

a) I came, I saw, I conquered. (repetition of the word ‘I’)
b) Mad world! Mad kings! Mad composition! (repetition of the word MAD)
c) It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. (repetition of the word IT)
d) With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right (repetition of the word WITH)
e) We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end… we shall never surrender. (repetition of the phrase WE SHALL)

15. Euphemism

A euphemism is a word or phrase to avoid saying an unpleasant, rude or offensive word; e.g.

a) SENIOR CITIZEN is a euphemism for OLD PERSON.
b) PASS AWAY is a euphemism for DIE.

Some other examples of Euphemism

a) ‘Homeless’ instead of ‘bum’
b) ‘Letting him go’ instead of ‘firing him’
d) ‘Economical with the truth’ instead of ‘liar’
e) ‘kicked the bucket’ instead of ‘has died’


A Paradox describe a situation when it involves two or more facts or qualities which seem to contradict each other; e.g.

a) It is a paradox that computers need maintenance so often, since they are meant to save people time.
b) The paradox is that the region’s most dynamic economies have the most primitive financial systems.
c) The paradox of exercise is that while using a lot of energy it seems to generate more. 

17. IDIOM 

An idiom is commonly used expression whose meaning does not relate to the literal meaning of its words; e.g.

Be careful not to miss the boat.

(MISS THE BOAT is an idiom, its meaning is: to lose an opportunity to do something by being slow to act; e.g.

There were tickets available last week, but he missed the boat by waiting till today to try to buy some.

Some other examples of Idiom

a) This is the last straw. (LAST STRAW is an idiom. It means the last in a series of bad things that happen to make someone very upset, angry, etc.; e.g. It had been a difficult week, so when the car broke down, it was the last straw.

b) You can’t pull the wool over my eyes. (PULL THE WOOL OVER SOMEONE’S EYES is an idiom. It means to trick or deceive someone, or to hide the truth from someone; e.g. He was too clever to let them pull the wool over his eyes.

c) Don’t sit on the fence. Say what you mean. (SIT ON THE FENCE is an idiom. It means not to take sides in a dispute; not to make a clear choice between two possibilities; e.g. When Rahul and Reema argue,  it is best to sit on the fence and not make  either of them  angry.



Identify the figure of speech in the following:

1. The cat ran away like the wind.
2. Suddenly in the middle of the night, the dog started barking.
3. Variety is the spice of life.


1. Simile. The cat speed is compared to the wind. And since the word LIKE is used, it is a simile.
2. Onomatopeia. Barking is a word that indicates sound.
3. Metaphor. Here the two things are compared without the use of AS or LIKE. The sentence indicates that one of the things is similar to the other.


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Maha Gupta

Maha Gupta

Founder of www.examscomp.com and guiding aspirants on SSC exam affairs since 2010 when objective pattern of exams was introduced first in SSC. Also the author of the following books:

1. Maha English Grammar (for Competitive Exams)
2. Maha English Practice Sets (for Competitive Exams)

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